Price, Utah to Paonia, Colorado
March 31 – April 2, 2010

Kate here…

It’s the last day of March.  Steve and I headed east around noon on Sunday,  March 28th to the strains of “Amazing Grace”.   Singing in a ring, we left the woods of Molalla, Oregon to the tones of the old folk tribe who come together from points all over for a weekend sing once a year. We left the woods to the sound that fills you up to your skin. The singers waved us goodbye through the window from the humming circle, ready to break into harmonic bliss one more time for the road.

Singtime Frolics in the woods of Molalla, Oregon, sponsored by the Portland Folk Society, is as much a well-kept secret as it is an institution. A little organic for some, it was balm to our souls.  We joined with a hundred or so people to sing for and with each other over a warm wet Oregon spring weekend in the woods south of Portland.

For us, it was home, a gathering of the tribe, an intersection peopled by the folk folk, so familiar from countless crossings over time across the musical landscape of our lives. The pure pleasure of lifting voices together in songs, one at a time and together was pure and sumptuous.

This was a good beginning to the next chapter and the tour ahead.

And a good ending to the last one.

The last key turned over before we left for Molalla was to our house, our home and personal address for the last fifteen years.  Our kids finished growing up there.  It’s the only place the two of us have ever lived together.  The deconstruction of home as the container of the lives we’ve been living is a complex and delicate labor of love and life lived. Piece after piece, layer after layer, the ingredients move through the thresher, sorting into the remains we will take with us from here; bringing what we had into where we go, the place that becomes home ahead.

The address we thought we were moving into took a U-turn three days before we left.  Without time to find new lodgings, we decided to finish packing the POD, studio and RV.  We signed the papers to our house, handed over the keys and by Friday afternoon, headed out to Molalla to teach for the weekend in our little RV, our home on wheels for now.

Now it’s day four.  We’ve been on the road and making ourselves at home through eastern Oregon, Idaho, Utah and now, in a few more miles, we’ll be in Colorado.  The pace of driving has helped us to get our breath back and reacclimate to living back in a boat on four wheels heading for Missouri.

Next day…

John Prine sings about where all the money goes from out of speakers tuned into public radio.  NPR is such a treat when you’re driving the back roads of America.  Today, Steve and I hope to peel the miles between Price, Utah and Paonia, Colorado.  We can see the better side of the weather from the vehicle, the full 360 degrees all around us. We rolled safely through the buttes of Utah, the land of the dinosaurs. You can see a panorama of weather from here in the car. Bits of heaven peek blue behind a puff parade of clouds skirting the bottom of the blanket of weather like colorguards kicking under the banner.

Coal Cliffs stand black on the left, Orange Cliffs on the right.  Signs for Arches Canyonlands coming up.  Moab exit just behind.  Snow disappears under disappearing mountaintops tucked in a bed of cloud. Panoramic weather, left to right.  Storms varigate at bay in the sky. Dense gray to the left, sticking out a dragon tongue of curly gray warbling into whales of darkening clouds forshadowing lightning. Sunshine nudges from the right into a breaking curtain of cloud feathering the bottom of sky across the short mile to the blue foothills stage left.

Nearly to Grand Junction now. We’ll stop in Paonia for the next few days.

The Big Read kickoff concert is Friday night. Call of the Wild is the book. Our music is the medicine show.  Radio interview tomorrow with Ellen Stapenhorst at KVNF to air on Friday.  Ukalaliens Workshop Saturday morning and then off to Boonville, The Big Muddy Festival and points Missouri.

I secretly wish we could stop at the Dinosaur Museum. Tumbleweed rolls at large in my peripheral view from the edges of the highway and pin ball across the road on its own spin against and with the wind.

It’s windy here in the Rockies in spring.

We camped now on the Uncompahgre River near the confluence with the Gunnison River here in Delta, Colorado.  The birdlife here is abundant.  Geese are a constant. Rumour has it that thousands of sandhill cranes lift in a daily ritual from the reservoir near Grand Mesa in sight.  There’s a special feeling in the Rocky Mountain air.

Next day…

After a good night’s sleep in our cozy snug, we wake up to “Rabbit!”.  It’s the first day of April and it’s a tradition in our house to make the first word uttered on the turn of the month, “Rabbit!”, for good luck.  I don’t know where it came from.  It’s a game of light superstition that we’ve been practicing for years now.  Once in a great while we miss it and other words come first but today started with “Rabbit!” and so the month begins in spite of April Fools.

Our morning routine begins with me rolling out of my side of the bed, closest to the kitchen side of the galley.  I turn on the heat and the water pump, pour water into the tea kettle and light the flame on the stove to heat it for coffee.  The aroma of Nossa Familia ground coffee blooms like a genie as I open the big two-pound bag filled with its warm luscious scent.  Three big scoops into the basket.  I turn the ignition a notch to turn on the radio and look for a public radio station – there it is! KVNF is coming in loud and clear with the friendly voices of NPR coaxing the news into the scenery from the familiar setting of Morning Edition.  These are a couple of the things that make home out of mornings in new surroundings.  Wait! They just announced our show and the uke workshop on their community calendar. I guess we’re in the right place after all.

Coffee’s ready and we’re getting dressed for the day.  We’ve decided to take a run up to the reservoir at Grand Mesa to see the sandhill cranes.  It is a famous landing spot for the annual migration.  We learned that thousands of cranes feed at the reservoir and take off in the morning sometime between nine and ten. They lift a few dozen at a time, and then hundreds, into the thermal currents that take them high up into high altitudes.  Some days, if it’s snowing, they don’t lift – almost as if they know that they won’t be able to get up to the place they like to be.  More gravity in the weather keeps their feet on the ground.  There’s a light flurry of snow in the air.  We decide to go for it, pack our things back in their baskets and cupboards and head for Grand Mesa about fifteen miles north.

The area is beautiful, little hills and fields approaching the mesa with the gargantuan blue Rocky Mountains in the backdrop.  We approach the reservoir at Grand Mesa and don’t see anything in the fields below until we realize that the bits of gray are the birds. They are there and there are thousands of them.

Steve takes out the binoculars and we zoom in for a closer look.  We’ve never seen so many cranes in one place.  Four feet tall with a six-foot wingspan, we watch as their necks sink to the ground to eat seeds, walking around on their long bending stick legs.  We take them in for a while.  Nobody’s flying.  Must be the snow.

It’s time to head out.  Starr’s Guitars is fostering our Ukalaliens Workshop at the Paonia Library on Saturday and the shop is right in Cedaredge nearby.  It’s a good time to visit the music store and say hello.  We turn on the GPS and “Serena” indicates that rather than turn around and go back the way we came, we should venture forward and take the dirt road veering off to the left down the hill we’re on.  We look at each other, “This road?” and decide that we’ll see where it takes us.

One hill leads to another and before long we’re tracking back and forth up higher and higher on a dirt road that has given way to a smaller road sign that says “Old Goat Trail Road.”  There’s no place to turn around so we buck up, slow down and inch our way along the road.  The only way is forward. As the road climbs the side of the hill, it seems to be growing narrower and looks more like a goat path in the high Rockies than a road that a 10,000 pound vehicle would be driving on.  The view is an astounding tease as it unfolds under higher and higher elevation.

I’m in the driver’s seat slowly gauging our footing as the path roughens the wheels, bouncing spices out of the cabinet performing flips on the floor of the galley.  The road has grown so narrow that an oncoming vehicle would present an impossible standoff.  I pray that we are the only ones on this road.  We are so high up my ears are clicking.  We come to a high bend in the road and before I can make the turn a cold sensation fills my body; my lungs stop breathing as my face and hands tingle.  My foot is on the brake and I can’t move.  My eyelids can’t blink.  I’m petrified.  My gut resists turning the bend, unsure the road I can’t see around the turn is even there.  The wheels grip the rocky dirt and hold.  I am holding my breath as though that would hold us together on the road before it all gives way.  I’m paralyzed with a sudden fear of losing traction. Steve looks at me and sees my body freezing into a statue, eyes wide open and he says calmly, “Put on the brake, Kate, and move to the back. I’ll drive.  Don’t drive another inch.  Put on the brake and get in the back seat.”

I press the brake with my left foot and unlock my seat belt to evacuate the driver’s seat.  I move to the back couch, close my eyes and in short breaths scramble words from childhood prayers to utter underneath my breath that the road will hold long enough for us to get through.  My eyes resist opening but moving blind isn’t helping either so I barely peek to see the road unfold as Steve moves us across the remaining mile of Old Goat Trail Road.  Turning onto blacktop we let out a shaky cheer and hurrah.  My wits are inside out from the scare.  The last time I was that scared was on a roller coaster in Vegas I never should have taken and swore I never would again.  This was scarier.  We made it.  We made it!  Boy, that was a ride!

When we reach Starr’s Guitars, we introduce ourselves and tell them the tale of where we had just been.  “Well, now you have a new story to tell” quips David, the owner. “Even the old goats don’t take that road anymore!” he laughs as our adrenalin lays down and we take in the shop.  The relief of getting there was replaced with the sight of every kind of guitar and some unusual ukuleles.  Our host told us that this shop was the closest thing to Artichoke Music in these parts.  It was a great store and the staff were really friendly.  They will be lending extra ukes for our Ukalaliens Workshop at Paonia Library on Saturday.  We thank them for that and head back to Paonia.

We have a radio interview next at KVNF in the middle of the little mountain town of Paonia.  Our host, Ellen Stapenhorst meets us there to interview us for the Friday show.  The station is beautiful, maybe the prettiest community radio station we’ve ever been in.  There are stunning black and white portrait photographs of the staff and volunteers and celebrity friends of the station.  Jeff, the engineer, takes great care of us and the hour goes quickly.  We’re told that we just missed Joe Cocker who popped in to use the loo. Joe lives nearby and often stops by to help plug the pledge drives and sit in on his old friend’s show.

Then it’s pizza and bed.  We wake up this morning to snow but the sun’s out now.  Weather forecast looks good for clear roads on I-70 by the time we leave here on Saturday afternoon for points Missouri.

To whatever guardians are out there keeping us safe, we are thankful.  Being on the road is definitely an adventure.  Today we walk to our destinations from our snug at Darla’s Rocky Mountain Inn.  It’s snowy and calm.

Tonight we sing!

Traveling Kate & Steve, Troy Bridge

Kate & Steve on the road